When the going gets tough, the tough ask questions
“Be curious, not judgmental.” — Walt Whitman
One of my favorite things about coaching is how anyone can use its tools and concepts for better communication in everyday life. Take the practice of curiosity, which serves a dual role in coaching. First, in its unassuming posture, it’s an effective stance from which to explore the unknown. Second, curiosity provides a template for how to be with others — authentic, interested, and present rather than judgmental. A coach, from curiosity, asks open-ended questions of a client not to interrogate, correct, or analyze, but to provoke a client’s own wisdom and discovery.
Where am I going with this? When freelancing, writing, publishing, and authorhood is hard and not going our way, when we get rejected, feel dejected, are deep in time- or financial debt, it is sooo easy to judge the industry, berate reviewers, curse bookstore owners, and then turn the critical attitude on ourselves. Curiosity, detached and genuinely interested, is a great neutralizer when all is clouded by harshness.
Curiosity is also a preventative, a preemptive guard against descending into negative judgments. Use its generous attitude about yourself and with others, appreciating that there may be so much more to learn, so much happening beyond your current understanding and horizon.
Here are some examples (naturally, let your own curiosity direct your own conversations):
What traits are most important to you in a freelance hire?
What strategic goals are your department working on these days?
What’s coming down the road for you and what kind of outside support will you need?
What kinds of things stand out for you in the writing of your best contractors?
Where have you seen surprising results lately?
What are you working on? For whom? How did that arrangement come about?
Do you have any stretch goals? How can I help you with that?
Who do you want to meet? Maybe I know someone who knows someone.
Members of the media
What stories are you working on now? What kind of help do you need for those?
How do you find your best stories?
What’s the most exciting thing you covered recently?
How do you prefer to receive pitches?
What’s new? What’s easy? What’s challenging?
What are the most popular categories of books at your store?
Are there ways authors can contribute to your blog or newsletter?
What comprises a successful author event for you?
Coaches know that not all of your curiosity needs to arrive at the listener as a question. Other types of conversation can express your interest and keep the information flowing…
Say more about that…
Tell me more…
Really? That’s something I never considered…
That’s not what I’d expect…
That’s a perspective I haven’t heard before…
When you’re feeling acrid and disapproving of the ways and means of the publishing and freelancing arenas, indulge yourself a bit (you deserve the rant and it deserves your rancor… this business blows), then move on to a coach approach of curiosity. Towards yourself, your goals, your options, and the industries you work in: What does work around here? What do I want to see happen? What will inch me forward? How can I propel myself to my next milestone?
Curiosity is a terrific response to both acceptance and rejection. A library says “yes” to your author event? Great. What can I do to help make this a successful event for you? What have you noticed your patrons most respond to? Do you have any thoughts about handouts, props, or the best location for my sales table? A reporter says “no,” they will no longer be covering your book. Thank you for considering it. May I contact you down the road at a different angle? What types of stories are you spending most of your time on these days?
Get curious, period. Ask what you really want to know about. What don’t you know? How can you find out? Who could you know? Who needs your book, your blog posts, your writing services? Why? Where and how can you reach them? What else can you do to promote your writing? What do you really want from having written a book, become a full-time freelancer? How can you get those things?